BT Sport loses IndyCar rights

BT Sport will not broadcast coverage of the IndyCar Series this season after losing the rights to the championship.

The series aired on Sky Sports as part of a longstanding relationship until the end of the 2012 season, with regular live studio coverage covering each race. As Sky ramped up their F1 involvement, IndyCar arguably suffered, and the series moved over to ESPN at the start of 2013.

IndyCar continued on ESPN, but under the BT Sport umbrella from August 2013 onwards. Whilst BT Sport’s agreement with ESPN’s international arm lasts until 2022, the decision by IndyCar to break away from ESPN and bring their international rights in-house placed BT Sport’s UK deal under threat.

This site can confirm that BT Sport have lost the rights to IndyCar with immediate effect. Writing on Twitter, BT Sport’s IndyCar commentator Tom Gaymor said  “Unfortunately it looks like IndyCar will not be on BT Sport this year, no more information at the moment! I know a lot of you have been asking, so if it changes, I’ll let you know. I’m as disappointed as you are.”

Typically, IndyCar races average around 25,000 viewers, a figure that has remained relatively static in recent years. Most notably, IndyCar enjoyed its moment in the sun in 2017, when the appearance of Fernando Alonso at the Indianapolis 500 led to BT Sport’s coverage peaking with over 200,000 viewers, by far IndyCar’s highest UK audience in a generation.

For the IndyCar fans that have stuck with BT Sport’s coverage, the parting of ways between the two sides is a shame. Whilst BT Sport did not revolutionise IndyCar coverage as such (the budget remained small), what the motor sport team, led by Nick Kennerley off camera, did provide was a home for the series.

BT’s coverage was commercial free for the most parts with UK commentators Gaymor, Keith Collantine and Oliver Webb providing insight when their US colleagues were on commercial breaks. It is difficult to imagine another network doing the same thing as BT have done for the past few years.

However, if IndyCar’s new home does provide the championship with a wider platform, then overall this is a good move.

IndyCar have yet to announce a new broadcast partner for the UK. One possibility is that IndyCar finds itself back on Sky Sports. Comcast now owns Sky, and has done so since the middle of 2018. In the US, IndyCar is airing on NBC in a new deal starting this season. And Comcast also owns NBC…

I have reached out to IndyCar for further comment.

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Live F1 testing coverage peaks with 96,000 viewers on Sky

Live coverage of the first Formula 1 test of 2019 peaked with just under 100,000 viewers in the UK on Sky Sports, overnight viewing figures show.

The pay-TV broadcaster aired the four afternoon sessions live from Barcelona last week from 13:00 to 18:00. The first four hours consisted of on-track action, with a review show airing from 17:00 onwards.

As always, figures exclude those that watched via Sky Go and Now TV, the former of which may be higher than usual with testing taking place during the week when people are normally at week as opposed to the weekend.

The audience figures for the on-track action peaked on the first day of running, with an average audience of 58k (0.79%) watching across the F1 channel and Sky Sports Main Event. A peak of 96k (1.45%) watched day one, although the number of viewers the programme reached will be higher than usual due to the dip in and out nature of testing.

The remaining days fell into a similar ballpark for the live on-track segment from 13:00 to 17:00, averaging 37k (0.59%), 35k (0.53%) and 37k (0.58%) respectively, all peaking with around 65,000 viewers.

Although lower than most Formula 1 figures from 2018, live testing rated higher than all but two GP3 races and higher than most Formula Two races last season. In the grand scheme of things, audience figures are not spectacular, but on an expected level for a week day.

Welcome to F1 2019, the evening wrap-up show, fluctuated throughout the week. The first and third days averaged 21k (0.16%) and 21k (0.17%) from 17:00 to 18:00 on Sky Sports F1. Days two and four performed better, averaging 38k (0.32%) and 50k (0.40%). Certainly, the trend as the week progressed leaned slightly towards the review show if anything.

The review show recorded its highest peak figure on Thursday, when 72k (0.50%) were watching at 17:50.

Year-on-year, audience figures for testing have increased based on the first airing. However, comparisons are difficult as Sky repeated last year’s content (Paddock Uncut and Ted’s Notebook) ad nauseam meaning that the individual shows reached a higher number, whereas Sky are not repeating this year’s testing content on the channel.

A better comparison is with Sky’s 3D experiment in 2013, when the broadcaster aired testing live. In 2013, Sky aired two and a half hours of testing live, repeating the showing later in the night. Combined, the audience peaked with around 120,000 viewers on three of the four days, higher than the highest peak in 2019.

In the six years between 2013 and 2019, Formula 1’s UK viewing figures have dipped, so a drop between both years expected. The drop may also suggest that five hours of live testing content per day to air on TV is simply too much and that two and a half hours, as we saw in 2013, is the right amount.

However, if the reason for testing not returning in 2014 was because viewing figures were too low, then Sky’s viewing figures for this past week may not bode well for live testing returning to Sky’s schedules for 2020.

Barcelona test 2 update
Live coverage is not returning for the second Barcelona test, which begins today. As reported earlier, last week’s coverage was a one-off effort between Formula 1 and Sky to inform future decision-making.

In a departure from previous years, Sky are not airing their round-up shows for the second test, which typically consisted of Paddock Uncut and either Ted’s Notebook or #AskCrofty. Instead, fans will need to keep an eye on F1’s social media platforms and Sky Sports News to find testing updates.

F1’s over-the-top platform is scheduled to air a review show following Friday’s running, but it is currently unclear if Sky Sports F1 will also carry the show via their channel.

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Ted Kravitz to remain part of Sky’s Formula 1 team

Ted Kravitz will remain part of Sky’s Formula 1 team for the upcoming 2019 season, this site can confirm following a period of intense speculation about his future.

Kravitz’s future has been subject of social media discussion for several days, with reports circulating last Friday that Kravitz will not be part of Sky’s set-up this season. In an article on this website, Sky have listed Kravitz as part of their 2019 team.

The story behind the story can be traced back to the end of 2017, when Sky appointed Scott Young as their Head of Formula 1, following Martin Turner’s departure from the team.

2018 was always going to be a year of transition as Young looked to see what, in his view, is working, and what needed shaking up within the Sky F1 hierarchy.

As this site predicted months before Young joined, the new person in town had a difficult task ahead of them. “Do they upset the apple cart by creating a fresh new line-up, mixed with the old and the new, or will they stick by their current talent?” were the words that I wrote half way through 2017.

And, as reported last September, it became apparent that Young was looking to shake things up. Both Karun Chandhok and Jenson Button joined the team ahead of this season, whilst the broadcaster was quick to deny other rumours that were making their way through the Grand Prix paddock.

Industry sources have indicated to this site for some time that Kravitz’s Sky future was in doubt. Motorsport Broadcasting can now confirm the reports that circulated over the weekend that Young initially opted not to renew Kravitz’s contract for the 2019 season.

However, this site can exclusively confirm that the decision to axe Kravitz was overturned from within, with discussions between Sky and Kravitz ongoing regarding his ‘return’ in recent weeks.

The u-turn from Sky is not a result of any social media storm that unfolded over the weekend, the wheels for his return were in motion far before the leak. This writer chose not to write about the subject of Kravitz’s potential exit given that negotiations were ongoing between both parties, and any decision to publish an article could jeopardise those.

Elsewhere, Sky have confirmed that Anthony Davidson will remain part of their line-up despite Sky omitting him from their press release last Friday. Expect a similar number of races for Davidson compared to previous years.

Analysis: Better heads prevail
Possibly one of the most surprising, and bewildering, Formula 1 broadcasting stories, on a human level, in years. Was Scott Young really thinking of getting rid of Ted Kravitz from the Sky Sports F1 set-up?

Amazingly, astonishingly, the answer is yes.

The idea of people coming and going is not a new concept by any stretch of the imagination. Ask Jonathan Legard, Gary Anderson, or Georgie Ainslie (nee. Thompson), three examples of where a UK F1 broadcaster has parted company with the talent in question (or vice versa) for one reason or another in the off-season.

The idea of a new person coming in to the lead the ship and wanting some fresh blood through the doors is also not a novel concept, it is a concept that exists in businesses worldwide.

But, the idea of not renewing the contract of one of the most popular on-air team members from the Sky Sports F1 line-up in a year where Sky needs every viewer and subscription they can get from Formula 1 strikes me as a very narrow-minded decision.

If you asked one hundred F1 fans on the street what they would change about Sky’s F1 line-up, I suspect very few would say ‘get rid of Ted Kravitz’. In a poll on this site in 2016 asking fans who they thought was Sky F1’s biggest asset, Kravitz placed second, with Martin Brundle heading the table.

Only Scott Young can answer why he thought axing Kravitz was a good idea. Whether it is his view that only ex-drivers and ex-F1 personnel can be pundits, I do not know. You do not need to have ‘been there, done that’ to be knowledgeable on a subject. Kravitz may not have been a racer, but he has risen through the ranks of ITV, BBC and now Sky.

Inevitably, some of the above leads us to the decision to overturn Young’s original move. Those within the Sky set-up will know how popular Kravitz is, and no doubt will have tried to fight his corner in the battle to keep him in the line-up.

Some of those working with Kravitz have worked with him since the BBC and ITV F1 days, so have had a longstanding professional and personal relationship with him. Given the outcome that we now know, clearly those that did fight for him behind the scenes went some distance to get the outcome they, and the fans, wanted.

The outcry on Twitter that has dominated the weekend were a day late, and a dollar short. Kravitz’s absence from the first F1 test in Barcelona, where he would have normally presented his Notebook output on Sky Sports, made it clear to those watching that something was going on behind the scenes, making a leak inevitable.

Some of the comments on social media, specifically those directed towards Karun Chandhok (who Young has brought into the fold), have bordered on being frankly unacceptable and abhorrent.

I understand the frustration (proving the point of Kravitz’s popularity), but that does not excuse those who have directed abuse towards other members of Sky’s team, and Young himself for that matter.

About Kravitz himself, are his contributions as good as they were a few years ago? In my view, Sky overexpose him slightly on-air, and his content around the Notebook could do with evolving somewhat. Those are minor concerns though, and certainly nothing to suggest that Sky should get rid of him. He is still one of the best members of Sky’s on-air team.

Whether Kravitz has a long-term future at Sky beyond 2019, or whether he is with them for every race this season, is unclear. I would not be at all surprised if F1 themselves came knocking for 2020 if it came to fruition that this is a short-term contract between Sky and Kravitz.

For the moment, better heads have prevailed, and Sky have avoided a PR disaster after a weekend to forget across social media.

Now, when does Australia start?

Sky launches blockbuster F1 trailer and ‘best-ever offer’ ahead of 2019 season

Sky Sports has unveiled a blockbuster trailer ahead of the 2019 Formula One season, whilst also announcing their ‘best-ever offer’ for fans to watch the sport.

Fans who wish to subscribe to Sky’s services can add Sky Sports F1 to their television package for £10.00 a month. The deal, which is available throughout March, comes with a two-year price guarantee, but it is unknown as of writing whether Virgin Media customers can access the deal via their platform.

Including Sky’s mandatory basic Entertainment pack, it means that fans must pay a minimum of £32.00 a month to watch Sky Sports F1 with Sky in 2019. Sky’s press release does not explicitly reference new or existing subscribers, I assume all Sky customers can take up the deal.

Last year, the cheapest tier that Sky offered for Sky Sports F1 totalled £38.00 a month (£20.00 for the Entertainment pack back, plus £18.00 for one Sky Sports channel), so by entering a new contract with Sky, fans could see their payments reduce by £6.00 a month, or £72.00 across the whole year.

The big selling point of the Sky deal is ‘F1 for a tenner’, as it was back at the end of 2011 when Sky first joined the fray. As always the viewing figures for the first few races will give a clearer indicator as to whether Sky’s deal has worked.

Keep an eye on this site in March for a detailed summary of the different pricing options for viewing F1 in 2019.

Blockbuster trailer to kick start Sky’s F1 2019 promotion
In addition, the broadcaster has launched a blockbuster trailer highlighting Formula 1’s history over the years. In my opinion it is by far Sky’s best F1 trailer to date.

  • Pioneers pushed the boundaries.
  • Technology gave us speed.
  • Rivalries gave us drama.
  • Television brought us closer.
  • We gave it a home.
  • Here’s to a new chapter.

There are six segments to the film, taking the viewer through the generations, covering the sport’s biggest successes on track, from James Hunt, to Damon Hill and onto Sebastian Vettel. It is arguably one of the best television trailers ever produced for the sport, in my view, with a level of detail rarely seen elsewhere.

The trailer is extremely respectful to the individual eras, closely matching the reality at that point of time, making the viewer feel like they are in that moment. The last half of the promo focuses on Sky’s present-day activities, with a nod to their 2012 branding also present.

Understood to have cost around £750,000 to produce, Sky filmed the promo in Warner Bros. Studios at the end of January. Most importantly for me, it is a super cool trailer, executed perfectly.

The Chain in, Just Drive out?
One of the biggest surprises though is the inclusion of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain as the soundtrack, more surprising considering the song has been synonymous with the BBC’s and Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage over the years.

It is unclear if The Chain is a permanent replacement for Alistair Griffin’s Just Drive, which has been Sky’s signature theme for Formula 1 since 2012. In my view it makes little sense to use The Chain for promotional material, only to revert to Just Drive for the main show itself. I understand it is also up in the air whether Channel 4 plan to continue using The Chain as part of their coverage this year as well.

The trailer features many of Sky’s F1 personnel on offer for the 2019 season, although key players Anthony Davidson and Ted Kravitz were both absent from the trailer. Further information on their status with the team is imminent. As previously revealed, Karun Chandhok and Jenson Button are both joining Sky for the upcoming season.

Sky UK and Ireland Chief Executive Officer Stephen van Rooyen said “Seven years ago we rewrote the rules and created a dedicated channel for F1, pushing the boundaries of sports broadcasting. Each year we challenge ourselves to go further and this year will be a whole new chapter.”

“We are extremely proud to partner with F1, honouring the history and traditions of this great sport, whilst also taking fans even closer to the track and share our excitement for the future.”

A step too far? Reviewing live F1 testing

Testing is, by its very nature, boring.

No matter which way you gloss over it, testing is boring. During testing, Formula 1 teams run their own programmes, with varying strategies, tyre choices, fuel loads, engine settings, which makes it difficult to analyse instantly.

Yet, fans clamour for live testing coverage, and I hold my hands up, that includes me too! February comes around, the tweets amplify, we get excited in anticipation for another season of racing, but the earliest we get to see live action over the airwaves is in the middle of March for Australia.

That was until this past week, when Formula 1 for the first time aired the entirety of the first pre-season test live on their over-the-top platform as a one-off experiment. How did the coverage look, and are we likely to see it return?

Data gathering exercise for Formula 1
From the outset, the rationale for producing a World Feed for the first test from Formula 1 and Liberty Media was to gather user data, informing future decision-making around testing heading into 2020. F1 never produced a World Feed for testing while the sport was under the custodian of Bernie Ecclestone and CVC.

This week, F1 has gathered a significant amount of data from users accessing F1 TV’s premium tier: how long each user accessed and watched testing for, what parts of the day were more popular than others, and most importantly how many watched, amongst many other artefacts.

Of course, like many data gathering exercises, this exercise is incomplete, given that F1 TV Pro is geo-blocked in some territories. The fact that testing ran from Monday to Thursday instead of say, Thursday to Sunday was another downside, with lower metrics mid-week compared to a weekend slot.

In addition, Sky Sports opted out of broadcasting the morning session in the UK and Italy, an odd decision considering that is when the fastest times are set. Had F1 in a parallel universe streamed testing live on YouTube, the metrics would be significantly different.

But, as insiders closer to the scene pointed out, the exact wording of each broadcasting contract may prevent that from happening, depending on the language used (for example ‘event’ or ‘race weekend’). And live testing is not worth wrangling with a broadcaster over for what is essentially an add-on.

F1 TV Pro and Sky was what fans got, but it in the very least provides Formula 1 with a baseline to work with, which they can model and extrapolate against to try to work out how many viewers testing could get if streamed live, partial or in full, on social media. Live testing could live or die based on the metrics from this past week.

Slimmed down production on offer
F1 and Sky Sports worked together on the daily ten-hour offering, providing a hybrid offering on and off-screen. Whilst F1 provided the graphics and track side cameras, Sky provided interviews from the paddock via Sky Sports News reporter Craig Slater, the latter at the test regardless of F1’s own offering, so made logistical sense.

Sky brought most of their team to the test, including Simon Lazenby, Karun Chandhok, Johnny Herbert, and David Croft, with Rosanna Tennant, Will Buxton, Tom Clarkson and Alex Jacques playing their part from FOM’s in-house team.

The World Feed output was slimmer than a normal race weekend. F1 were never going to take the full ‘bells and whistles’ product of a race weekend, but what they did was generally good, even if it was unclear why the director was following a specific car from time-to-time.

There were fewer track side cameras, and no live on-board footage on offer, the latter not a huge surprise in the secretive testing environment, although the F1 production team did play delayed on-boards into the broadcast each day.

The lack of timing graphics on display however made the coverage less engaging, and was by far the biggest flaw of F1’s testing experiment. Static times for individual drivers appeared on-screen after each lap, but other timing information, such as the timing tower was noticeably absent, despite this data being available elsewhere for free.

Most of the commentary was discussion based and unrelated to the on-track action, which was fine to a degree, but given the fact that F1 were covering the whole test live, the coverage would have benefited from having additional on-screen information to help paint the overall picture. When Sky covered testing live in 2013 as part of their 3D experiment, their bespoke graphics set displayed some live timing data.

Having graphics displayed on-screen to show that driver X was on lap Y of a run would have been extremely helpful to both the commentators and the viewers watching, keeping fans engaged for longer and crucially for F1 from a data gathering perspective, reduce the bounce rate.

Who was present… and who was absent?
Ignoring the timing gripe, the commentary itself was excellent with a variety of voices on offer throughout, helping to keep the coverage fresh.

There was nice, free-flowing, sometimes irrelevant, discussion on many topics aided by #AskCrofty during the first two days, including F1 in 2021, an in-depth team by team outlook on the season ahead, and the impact Brexit will have on F1 (admittedly a topic that ruffled a few feathers, but an important conversation nevertheless).

The hybrid setup between F1 and Sky resulted in some unique commentary trios, with Buxton, Chandhok and Croft in the box at the same time on Monday afternoon, a real treat for fans who never have previously had these three voices together in the same broadcast.

From the outset, hearing Chandhok talk eloquently about a range of topics in detail during his stints on-air, it is clear to me that he is going to be a huge addition to Sky’s F1 team this year, bringing a vast array of knowledge and experience to the table.

A surprise standout for me also was Lazenby. Traditionally Sky’s lead Formula 1 presenter, Lazenby made his commentary box debut on Tuesday afternoon. Fans saw Lazenby in a different light to usual in the box, and if the opportunity arose, I would not mind hearing him as a guest in the box during a practice session this season.

Jacques and Buxton from the F1 digital side put in marathon shifts in the commentary box across the four days, with many anecdotes and tales to tell. Their efforts, as well as those working behind the scenes on the whole operation, I should applaud.

The end of day wrap-up shows had a Sky feel to it, with only Sky on-air personnel involved. If you watched the entire day of coverage until that point, some of the discussion felt recycled. On the other hand, if you opted out of the on-track action, there is an argument to suggest that the wrap-up show as a standalone offering was inferior to last year’s digestible, but short, round-up that Sky offered.

A major absentee on-screen was Ted Kravitz, with no reference to him throughout Sky’s coverage. Normally at this stage, Kravitz is on-air with his trademark Notebook programme as well as Development Corner, both of which have formed part of Sky’s testing offering in recent years (one of the reasons why the wrap-up show felt inferior in comparison).

Fans noticed Kravitz’s absence across social media but, as of writing, neither Sky or Kravitz have commented on the record about his status, and whether he is still with the broadcaster.

Too far in one direction?
There is only so much you can talk about in 40 hours of on-track action during testing without the discussion becoming repetitive. I absolutely enjoyed the commentary, primarily the reason I stuck with the live coverage for Monday and Tuesday afternoon (when the UK had access to it). The product was decent, although the novelty began to wane after a while.

With additions on the graphics side, the commentary would become more meaningful and focused on the on-track action, as well as being discussion based, resulting in a better balance rather than it feeling like a radio feed. During the test this week, timing has been an afterthought.

If it is simply not possible to present additional on-screen graphics, I hope there is a world where F1 produces a basic World Feed for testing for those that want to watch it, and then go on-air with a full product towards the end of the day, consisting of the final phase of on-track running and an additional hour of genuine analysis on what each team was doing.

I use the word ‘genuine’, as the end of day wrap-up show never provided that in my view because the talent on-air had not had the opportunity to dissect the day’s events as they were on-air from the get-go. Okay, there was rotation, but there was never a fresh pair or eyes to provide new analysis within the review show.

For me, there is a limit. Two or three hours of discussion and action per day, fine. Five or six hours, and my attention will dip, unless the F1 production team make changes for 2020, although some of these may need the approval of all ten teams. I like what F1 did this year, the only way they will know if live testing is going to work is by doing it, and I applaud the team for doing that.

Is there an audience for testing all day, every day? Only F1 knows the answer to that question…